Maybe you’ve thought about trying out exercises for seniors with an exercise ball. But which ball should you choose? There are stability balls you can sit on, small balls, weighted medicine balls, even a half ball called a Bosu. Here’s a guide to what kind of balls are available and some of the exercises they’re useful for.
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Keep in Mind:
Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.
Benefits of Ball Exercises for Seniors
You may not have the room for a home gym, but for a fraction of that expense you can buy several exercise balls. And you can still get some of the muscle-building benefits that gym equipment provides. These ball exercises are particularly good for the “core” muscles. This can improve posture and decrease back pain, which leads to better function in the shoulders, arms and other parts of the body. Ball exercises, particularly the large ball exercises, do wonders for your balance.
A ball exercise routine is mentally stimulating as well! Many seniors find a lot of exercises boring and find it hard to stay mentally engaged. Mixing in some ball activities into your routine can be just the touch to help keep you motivated.
If you’re not ready to invest in a ball, most gyms and residence fitness centers offer them as part of the equipment. If you give some of these exercises a try, you just might find the right exercise ball to incorporate into an in-home routine.
Best Ball Exercises for Seniors
Here are 11 exercises that use a variety of balls, although there are so many variations it feels like many more. A lot of them can be done sitting, either in a chair or on the ball itself.
Seated Ball Exercises for Seniors
These are done on a large ball, often called a stability ball, Swiss ball or yoga ball. Choose a ball that you can sit on comfortably with your knees and hips at 90 degree angles and your feet flat on the floor. If you’re concerned about balance or about slipping off, you can do these with the ball pushed against a wall or wedged into a corner.
1. Hip Circles
Hip muscles, especially the hip flexors, are key to maintaining mobility as we age. This simple exercise can help.
- Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor, your legs slightly wider than shoulder width and your knees at a 90 degree angle.
- Move your hips in a small clockwise circle.
- Keep your feet on the floor and your upper body upright.
- Do 10-15 reps, then repeat in the counterclockwise direction.
2. Leg Lifts
These simple exercises work the back, hips and quadriceps and give you the strength to help protect the knee.
- Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor, your legs shoulder width apart and your knees at a 90 degree angle.
- Lift one leg until the knee is straight and your leg extends straight out in front of you.
- Hold it for 5 seconds then lower it.
- Do 10-15 reps on each leg.
There are many variations on this activity. For example:
- Raise your leg off the ground and hold it without straightening the knee.
- Raise your opposite arm each time you lift a leg.
Stability Ball (Swiss Ball) Exercises for Seniors
If you buy a stability ball, a minor investment at your local big box store, it comes with pictures of suggested exercises. Some require a lot of strength, balance and agility. Here are a couple that aren’t too hard but give you a big bang for your effort.
3. Stability Ball Bird Dog
This exercise can be done on the hands and knees, but doing it on a Swiss ball gives it an added flavor.
- Lie face down on the ball with your toes on the floor and the palms of your hands also on the floor.
- The difficulty of the exercise varies depending on the placement of your body on the ball. There’s more effort if you roll forward so the ball is closer to your hips.
- Tighten your abdominal muscles to maintain balance. As with all ball exercises, a good steady body position is key.
- Extend your right arm and your left leg. They should be fully extended and even pointed slightly toward the ceiling.
- Gradually come back to the starting position and repeat with the opposite arm or leg.
- Do 10-15 reps on each side.
This exercise comes with numerous variations.
- For an easier repetition, extend only your arm or only your leg.
- For more challenge, extend the arm and leg on the same side.
- Let both arms dangle as you extend one leg.
- Keep only one toe on the floor and extend both arms.
4. Back Extensions
- Lie atop the ball facing downward with your toes on the floor and your belly on the ball. Your feet should be spread slightly wider than your body.
- Rest your arms at your side, or hold them beside your head with the elbows extended.
- Exhale as you pull your shoulders back and lift your upper body. The action comes from your lower back. Don’t extend your neck; keep it in line with your spine.
- Return to the initial position.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps.
- Lie on your back, with your shoulders on the floor, your legs straight and your heels on top of the ball. Your arms will be palms down at your sides.
- Press your heels into the ball.
- Squeeze your glutes and lift your lower back from the floor.
- You’d like to get to a position where your body is straight with your feet, back and shoulder aligned. However, don’t go too far. It shouldn’t hurt your back. If it does, don’t raise as high.
- Gently lower yourself.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps.
To work a slightly different muscle group, bend your knees in the starting position.
Small Ball Exercises for Seniors
Small ball exercises put more emphasis on strength than stretch. A small ball is about 9 inches in diameter and should be rubber or plastic. Don’t use foam; it compresses too much.
5. Thigh Squeeze
Strengthening your thighs improves your posture and eases the work of your back.
- Sit straight in a chair with your back away from the chair back and your hips and knees at 90 degrees.
- Place the small ball between your thighs close to your knees or between the knees themselves.
- Squeeze your knees together until you feel tensions along your inner thighs. It’s not necessary to force the knees as close together as you can.
- Hold for a second or two then release.
- Do 2-3 reps of 10-15.
This squeeze can also be done on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
6. Wall Squishes
These work the abdominal muscles as well as the glutes and legs.
- Face away from the wall with the small ball between the wall and your lower back. Your knees are slightly bent. Rest your elbows against the wall.
- Move your shoulders and elbows down and forward as you squeeze the ball into the wall with your lower back.
- Find the point of steady tension rather than pushing as hard as you can.
- Hold for a second or two then release.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps.
Medicine Ball Exercises for Seniors
A medicine ball is about the size of a small ball, but it’s weighted. They can be up to 25 pounds, but a lighter ball, around 4-8 pounds, is better for most seniors. Medicine ball exercises can be done with unweighted small balls as well.
8. Seated Arm Exercises
One of the best ways to use a medicine ball is to sit in a chair, hold the ball between your hands with your arms, and go through a variety of motions.
- Sit straight in a chair with your back away from the chair back and your knees and hips at 90 degrees. Do some or all of the following routine.
- Hold the ball between your hands with your arms extended and parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your elbows straight, raise the ball as high as you comfortably can.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat about 10 times.
- Holding the ball straight out in front, make clockwise circles with your arms, bending your elbows only slightly. Keep your arms parallel to the floor.
- Continue for 30 seconds, then repeat in the counterclockwise direction.
- Still holding the ball, bend your elbows until they’re close to your chest.
- Twist your upper body to the left, keeping the ball in front of your chest. Don’t let your hips turn.
- Repeat the motion to the right.
- Do about 10 reps.
Lifts and circles can also be done standing. Or you can lie flat on your back and lift the ball from your thighs to straight overhead.
Bosu Ball Exercises for Seniors
A Bosu ball is a “half ball” or a dome that sits flat on the floor. You can sit on it, lie on it, or, with good balance, stand on it. There are Bosu exercises done with the ball side up and others with the flat side up.
9. Push Step and Lunge
Exercises like this will give you the basic feel of working with the Bosu.
- Stand on the floor with the Bosu directly in front of you, ball side up.
- Lean forward and press your right foot into the center of the dome.
- Go back to the start and repeat with your left foot.
- Do about 10 reps on each side.
There are many variations on this basic Bosu exercise.
- As you step on the dome, bend both knees into a lunge position. Keeping your arms wide will help you maintain balance.
- Stand beside the ball and step sideways onto the dome.
10. Basic Stance
For a great balance exercise, just stand on the ball! Sounds easy, right? Maybe not so much.
- If you’ve never done this before, do it next to a wall, with your palm flat against the wall for support.
- With the dome side up, stand straight up on the Bosu with your feet equidistant from the center. The closer together your feet, the more challenging the pose.
- If you haven’t yet done so, try letting go of the wall.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- If that was too easy for you, turn the ball over and repeat on the flat side.
11. Bosu Crunches
Some seniors prefer crunches on a Bosu to the traditional crunches done directly on the floor.
- Sit with your bottom near the edge of the ball rather than in the middle. This provides more back support.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Lace your fingers behind your head or fold your arms across the chest.
- Contract your abs and curl forward. Try to find the position where there’s tension through your abdomen but your back isn’t strained. If your back hurts, you’ve gone too far.
- Gently return to the starting position.
- Do 10-25 reps.
What Are You Waiting For? Start Having a Ball!
Don’t know where to start? Start anywhere. Even a moderate amount of exercise helps older adults maintain strength and stamina. The routines listed here are just the tip of the iceberg as far as what you can do with exercise balls. One of the joys of owning a ball is discovering all the different ways you can use it.
You might be able to start small ball exercises with something you already have around the home, such as a soccer ball or volleyball. Some medicine ball exercises can be done with any moderately heavy object. And here’s another benefit of owning a Swiss ball or stability ball: small grandchildren love to play with them when they visit!
Supporting Scientific Studies
- 1Effect of physical training performed on unstable surfaces with use of elastic bands for resistance exercises on physical performance and quality of life in elderly persons
- 2Training to Reduce Postural Sway and Increase Functional Reach in the Elderly
- 3Improvement of Postural Balance and Trunk Muscle Strength: Effect of Free Exercise, Elastic Band Exercise and Balance Exercise
- 4The Effect Of Core Stabilization Training Program On Elderly Postural Control
- 5Four-week trunk-specific exercise program decreases forward trunk flexion in Parkinson’s disease: A single-blinded, randomized controlled trial
- 6Effect of 12-week Swiss Ball Exercise Program on Physical Fitness and Balance Ability of Elderly Women
- 7The Effects of Trunk Stabilization Exercise Using Swiss Ball and Core Stabilization Exercise on Balance and Gait in Elderly Women
- 8The Effects of Fall Prevention Static and Dynamic Trunk Stabilization Exercises on the Balance of Elderly Females
- 9Effects of Neck and Trunk Stabilization Exercise on Balance in Older Adults
- 10Effect of 12-week neck, core, and combined stabilization exercises on the pain and disability of elderly patients with chronic non-specific neck pain: A clinical trial